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    December 20, 2006
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Rock smashes scissors; paper smothers rock

Student beats more than 500 to take bronze in world Rock, Paper, Scissors contest


Thomas Smith
(Photo courtesy Tom Smith)
Temple student Tom Smith (in cap) at the 2006 Rock, Paper, Scissors International World Championship

Who would have ever guessed that a game common to elementary school playgrounds would turn into an international competitive sport?

Thomas Smith certainly didn’t thinks so, that is until he and a group of friends began competing in Rock, Paper, Scissors competitions around the city. Now, Smith — the 2006 Rock, Paper, Scissors International World Championship bronze medalist — predicts the popularity of the game will continue to grow.

“People from all over the world compete during the World Championships,” said the 22-year-old science and technology major. “I’d like to see the game become an Olympic sport someday.”

Known on the Rock, Paper, Scissors circuit as “Vertical Paper,” Smith outplayed more than 500 challengers during the championship. His title makes him one of the few Americans to place in the top three during the history of the event, which has been held annually in Toronto since 2002. 

“This is the very reason that the Philadelphia City League was formed,” said RPS City League commissioner Shawn Ring. “In his last three major tournaments, [Smith] placed no lower than the final eight.  When all is said and done, he may very well be viewed as the one of the greatest players to ever come out of Philadelphia.”

After he began competing in RPS tournaments last April, Smith quickly realized he had a talent for the game, and it wasn’t long before he began to rise in the competitive ranks. He finished in the top eight during the City League Championship last summer, and he placed in the top four at the RPS Keystone Classic in October.

Outsiders who are unfamiliar with the sport may view RPS as a series of simple hand gestures. But, there’s a serious strategy to the game, said Smith, who competes with a team called the Magnificent 12.

“I have many different strategies, obviously some I’m unable to reveal — wouldn't want to give up my secret,” he said.  “It is important to remember what your opponent has already thrown. Based on that, you can get a feel for what they’re bound to throw next.

“A rock must be thrown upright, scissors must be thrown vertical, and paper must be thrown horizontal.  Any other variation will get you a warning, or a red card,” he explained. “Since throwing a ‘vertical paper’ is highly illegal, I decided to call myself that as a mockery to the rules.”

A player may throw three of the same gestures in a row to confuse his or her opponent, he said.

Throwing three rocks in a row is referred to as the "avalanche," three scissors is known as "the toolbox" three papers is known as "the bureaucrat," he said.  

Smith, who will graduate in May, plans to spend the spring semester studying abroad at Temple Japan in Tokyo.

“I plan on scoping out the Japan Rock, Paper, Scissors league, to see if I can compete while I'm there,” he said.  

- Jazmyn Burton




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